Joanna Newsom—the harp-plucking, polarizing critics’ darling—has been trying to shake off her shyness lately, dabbling in New York fashion and dating Andy Samberg (which she prefers not to discuss, thank you very much). She spoke with us about Have One On Me, her triple-disc album that comes out today, and how it was shaped by her increasingly high-profile lifestyle.
EW: The album has a lot of references to drinking and debauchery—is that autobiographical or just fiction?
JN: I think there is some of both, indirectly. A lot of the themes on the album have to do with traveling and being ungrounded in many ways, being sort of cast out and away from home, whatever that means. It kind of oversimplifies it in a way to talk about it. I’m trying to make a lyrical case rather than make the kind of case you would want to talk about at length in an interview. But I think that that’s part of the character of the record. For me I was thinking of it in terms of a 1920s expatriot version of decadence, that was the model of the kind of hedonism I wanted to write about.
EW: So this is your longest record. Did you intend for that, or did it just happen?
JN: It just kind of happened. Two thirds of the way through I already had enough material for a double album, but I weirdly felt it wasn’t done—I felt like I needed to get a better sense of what the themes were and I wanted to be able to tie them up. To introduce them, develop them and resolve them and I felt like I wasn’t there yet. So I tried to sequence it in a way that helped to locate that thread. Because I think there is a linear quality to the way that a lot of the ideas develop and revolve. It took me like three weeks to sequence it and I tried so many different permutations of songs. When it finally was sequenced I realized, to me at least, it made perfect sense as a triple album, and that’s what I decided to commit to.
EW: You used to live in Nevada City, Calif., but you seem to be in New York a lot. Are you living here now?
JN: I’m not. I do spend a fair amount of time there, but I’m still in Northern California. Not in Nevada City, but near where I grew up.
EW: You’ve been doing a fair amount of New York fashion stuff, like that shoot for W magazine. Has that affected how you approach music?
JN: I think in some ways. I did notice myself on this album either directly or indirectly writing about the city, sort of frantic dispatches from the city and trying to find a place there and figure out how to be creative and grounded in that world, which I still haven’t figured out, really. Yeah, I think it’s in there.
EW: I’ve read you wanted to play the harp and make music since you were a kid. Did you aspire to the fashion and fame thing as well, or is that more recent?
JN: Well, fashion is obviously a minefield of potentially toxic and horrible influences or forces at work, but fashion at its most simple, dreamy and pure form was something that interested me a lot. Like many people, I’m sure, I did the whole thing where you design clothes, hundreds and hundreds of pages of ideas that I wanted to make someday. And I really have always loved beautiful clothing, so there’s a side of that that’s exciting. I did sort of initially go through this phase of going to a lot of fashion-y things with that excitement, you know, being like, “Oooooo, this world! Fashion!” And then kind of getting deflated a little bit and realizing that in some cases—maybe I’m just not approaching it the right way—but in a lot of cases it just doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with the actual parts of fashion or the actual parts of design that are exciting to me.
EW: There’s a line in your record that goes, “Sure I can pass/particularly when I start to tip my glass.” Is that a somewhat autobiographical reference to doing the New York scene and the fashion thing? READ FULL STORY